Making an Urgent Case for Physical Activity

Mary Dell writes: From the moment we know our children exist, months before we lay eyes on them, we hope and pray for their good health. Unfortunately, the news that Lisa and I learned last week at the Social Good Summit is not all good.  At a session titled Designed to Move: A Physical Activity Action Agenda, a terrible statistic was flashed on the screen behind the speakers:

Today’s youth could be the first generation in history not to outlive its parents’ generation. They are on track to have a life expectancy that is five years shorter.

The reason? physical inactivity.

Charles Denson, Nike brand president; Allyson Felix, Olympic gold medalist; Dr. Bill Kohl, Professor of Epidemiology and Kinesiology at the University of Texas; and the moderator, Adam Ostrow from Mashable took the stage to present study findings titled Designed to Move (DTM). Denson spoke about how his company has teamed up with 70 other organizations around the world to shed light on the risks of physical inactivity.

These chilling statistics were presented for the US:

The typical child in the US becomes 75% less active between the ages of 9 – 15.

Physical activity in the US has declined 32% during the last 44 years.

The direct cost of inactivity will lead to a 113% increase in health care costs by 2030.

DTM is targeting kids up to age 10 (and their parents and schools) with two major initiatives:

1. Create Early Positive Experiences for Children – A generation that enjoys positive experiences in physical education, sports and physical activity early in life has the chance to shape the new future. This generation could break cycles of inactivity where they already exist, or prevent them before they start.

2. Integrate Physical Activity into Everyday Life – Economies, cities and cultures can be shaped and designed to encourage and enable physical movement. In fact, some already are. These are the bright spots. To ensure a better future for all, they need to be the norm.

So what about the rest of us who don’t have young kids around the house or don’t interact with that age group?  Does this mean that we can smugly go about our business as if the risks don’t apply to us?

The answer, of course, is no.

After the Summit, Dr. Kohl referred me to a series of papers published in July in The Lancet to which he contributed. Referring to them as “the best current science in the area,” they were published with the summer Olympics as a global backdrop. Here is a brief excerpt:

There is substantial evidence to show that physical inactivity is a major contributor to death and disability from non-communicable diseases (NCD) worldwide…. Unlike…tobacco, diet, and alcohol, the importance of physical activity has been slow to be recognised, and the emphasis to tackle it as a population level has not been forthcoming.

As I now sit (!) at my computer (which I do for a good part of my day) reading about the dangers of a sedentary life (the irony is not lost), I note that inactivity causes “9% of premature mortality ….which is as many deaths as tobacco causes.”  Clearly, I have been seduced by the on-line benefits that I enjoy –  reading the news, blogging, emailing, ordering groceries, looking at the latest photos on FB and much, much more – and turned a blind eye to the toxicity of my relationship with my computer. And I know I am far from alone.

Whether we have the responsibility of young children to raise or merely our own health to tend, to paraphrase Nike, on a global basis, we all better just move it!



  1. says

    So, so true! I think it is important to remember to find ways to make exercise fun, too. This morning, before my husband and older daughter headed out the door, I had the two of them and the younger teen join me in dancing while watching a couple viewings of “Gangnam Style.” There was no, “I don’t have time., I’m not dressed in work out clothes, etc…” I got 10 minutes of exercise into everyone’s routine without any effort. I think I’m on to something…

    • says

      I think you are onto something! Like sneaking vegetables into our kids’ food, sneaking exercise into our kids” (and our day) is a fantastic idea. Ten minutes count and if that is all the time you have, just move it! Thanks for the reminder about Gangnam Style – need to check out the video today.

  2. says

    I have this issue right now too. I have been trying to get up and do something every hour. And spend more time cleaning and moving. I know its not enough but I have to start again somewhere.

    • says

      Shelley, atarting can be the hardest thing and sitting is one of the worst things, too, so we really need to find a way to do both. Maybe we should crowd source this to get some good ideas?

  3. Flawed Mommy says

    That is a very scary statistic! I too spend a great deal of my time sedentary, as most of my work revolves around sitting at a desk and typing my life away. I am a very busy mom of 5, and often finding time for a meal or a shower seems impossible, hence going to the gym is completely out of the question on most days. As a mom I try very hard to encourage physical activity for my children. I sign them up for sports, encourage healthy eating, and many times shut off the TV and send them out to play even when it’s followed by whining or complaining. One day I realized that my kids don’t always like going outside to play, and I started to wonder how I could go about changing that. We don’t have many kids in the neighborhood around their ages so part of it has to do with the fact that they get bored out there just playing with each other. That’s when I decided that maybe it was time to go out there with them. I started to go on walks with them, hikes, sometimes we’d have a catch, or a simple game of tag. What I found was that as soon as they saw me get my shoes, and heard the words “Let’s all go outside”, they were so much more eager to participate. The lesson here is that sometimes the love of physical activity starts with us, as parents. If we go out there with them and use the time to interact with our children while being physically active, there is a better chance that as our children get older they will continue to enjoy those activities which raise the hear rate and improve good health. They may also be more inclined to enjoy those things with their children and generations to come.

    • says

      I agree with all that you say and remember when my kids were little and we would go outside to walk the dogs or play catch – they never said no! As in so much that we do as parents, our actions speak the loudest. Sounds like you are doing much with and for your kids; they are definitely seeing a positive example in you! Signing them up for sports (and urging them to try different ones) when they are little is really a great idea and, since the research shows that under aged 10 is where we have the most influence, it is a very valuable gift from you to them.

  4. says

    I’m sharing this on FB. So important. And right after that….I’m going for a bike ride.

    • says


      You are a dear to share this with your FB friends – want to hear more about your bike riding (I’m asking for one for Christmas and have no idea where to begin.) TY, TY!

  5. says

    Great post and so true! The competition just to get the kiddos outside is enormous–computer, x box, playstation, Ipad, texting, video chatting,tv. But once you get the kids out the door, invariable they will happily play for hours with any ball, box, stick, scooter, water. Anything as long as you add a friend. Love the message but did not know that 5 years less prediciton–yikes

    • says

      Amy, thanks so much for the kind words. Until we attended the Social Good Summit, we had not heard about this prediction, either. I knew that sitting was really bad, and childhood obesity is an epidemic so I guess it is not surprising that we are walking down this path. I think the electronic toys etc. are really hard for ALL of us to break away from and we had many battles with our teenage boys about limiting their time with them. What you said about adding a friend and sending them outside is absolutely true. Thanks for the kid words and the visit.

  6. Grace Hodgin says

    I try and stay active all the time. There are days I spend too much time at the computer though.

    • says

      Grace, it is the dark side of writing, isn’t it, that we can spend all day sitting. This info was a wake-up call for me and I am trying to add in time for exercise, even if it is aerobic grocery shopping!

  7. Walker Thornton says

    As I sit at my computer! Yes, I sit way too much too. While this may sound like a promo-I bought a Fitbit pedometer. It fits nicely on my bra, in the cleavage area, and is unseen. It tracks my activity level, steps taken, flights of stairs and calories burned. I love it. Using the web tool I can track how active I am in any given day. It gives me an incentive to get up from my computer and try to move around more. I’m way too sedentary so this article was another nice nudge!
    I’m going to send the article to my son so he can think about his daughters!

    • says

      Walker (love the name, btw), I used to use a device like that that Phillips markets but got a little bored with it. I am curious about Fitbit and may have to try it out. Thanks for writing about it and for passing this article along to your son. Guessing your granddaughters are young enough to be in the target group of under 10’s that Designed to Move is focusing on?

  8. Jennifer Comet Wagner says

    Luckily, living in NYC I walk almost everywhere I do so I get exercise from that. I try to do other exercise also but I don’t do it nearly as much as I should because I always feel too busy. But, I know I should make the time.

    • says

      Jennifer, you are right about how living and working in NYC creates embedded and fantastic workouts as soon as you leave your apartment. The ability to walk to places is one of the best things about city living and the lack of walkable destinations is part of the problem with most suburban areas. This is one of the things that the Designed to Move study is going to address – building exercise into the day-to-day by helping to create walking or biking traditions.

  9. says

    Great advice. I grew up in a home where exercising was very important and I have tried to impress that upon my kids. While there was many a day…month…year that I would battle against the computer and video games, my boys were still expected to play sports and exercise. They didn’t always like it, but it was non-negotiable. There is a huge problem with childhood obesity in today’s society, and that is largely because children don’t get out and move. Schools in inner cities are cutting back on gym periods due to budget cuts and that is a travesty. We have to get in there and fight for these kids; teach them about healthy eating and get them to MOVE! We must set the bar high and set the examples for all children.

    • says

      Mindy, limiting of gym time in schools is one of the worst results of budget cuts, you are so right about that! What are you describing – a tradition in your family for exercising that you are passing onto your children – is exactly why Designed to Move wants to target young kids to build into their lives the love for activity with the hope that they will remain active and have more active children. Sounds like your sons absorbed that lesson, which is a wonderful gift you gave them.

  10. says

    As a kid, I don’t recall many hours in front of the TV at all, and when we kids (7 of us) did watch TV, my older brother was in charge so it was mainly Star Trek. With my own kids, we put the TV downstairs, not in the living room, not near the dining room table, so it was out of sight, out of mind much of the time. We didn’t get a computer until my girls were in late junior high (most kids didn’t have them) and we didn’t have a game system until my sister—against my wishes—got the girls a Nintendo. Things are SO different now, with so many screens for kids. And grown ups. I spend far too much time at the computer, but I do race-walk my dogs most mornings for at least 30 minutes. My daughters, fortunately, are into running…5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, etc. So far, my grandsons are following suit.

    Such an important issue. Thanks for posting. I’ll be tweeting it out.

    • says

      Lisa, thank you for the kind words and the tweet! Im imagining you and your large family as children with your brother determining what you all watched. Fantastic that your dogs let you race walk – mine are terribly slow as they stop and sniff all along the way…nothing aerobic about it. How fantastic that your daughters are demonstrating such a good fitness example and your adorable grandsons are following her lead. That is very important, per the experts.

  11. says

    We forget too that PE in school has had its funding cut just like the arts in many schools struggling to meet their budgets. the high school my children attended didn’t require PE after freshman year. I had PE for 4 years, real PE-swimming, softball, track, gymnastics. With so many woman working and so many kids in after care, you don’t see neighborhood kids playing kickball or hide and seek or jumping rope before dinner and after dinner is for homework. I’m not saying that that absolves parents of the responsibility of ensuring that their children are physically active but it does come in to play. Things we took for granted aren’t always available to children today.

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